Identity and its impact at work. Lessons from three leaders at the Thriving Workplace Conference 2019

We each carry with us a unique personal narrative; an identity consisting of core beliefs and unconscious biases that shape our everyday thoughts and actions. At work, our individual identities collide with those of our colleagues, and the identity of the organisation at large. Given the majority of us spend at least a third of our day at work, it makes sense we’d want to feel comfortable in our skin and able to bring our whole selves to work. So, what are companies doing today to foster positive identities in the workplace? Attending this year’s Thriving Workplace event hosted by The Serenity Collective, I was thrilled to learn that industry leaders driving impact agree with us on the importance and value of speaking to the role personal and professional identity plays at work.

In opening the event, VP of People and Culture at Reddit, , shared her passion for creating inclusive, purpose-driven cultures. Reddit’s triple layered approach to belonging considers the roles of individual, shared and company identity. The glue that joins them together? Purpose. Katelin colourfully shared the intrinsic motivation that purpose brings to those connected to a values-driven work/life identity:

“When you wake up and you are inspired to jump in that shower and get your heinie to work, it’s because you are deeply connected to what you are building and how it is that you are building it together”.

As we sat considering the ways we could intentionally amplify components of our own identities at work, Karen Oldaker, Senior Executive of Wellbeing and Community at Medibank, took to the stage. In an act of modelling authentic vulnerability, Karen prefaced her keynote by sharing out loud her real time trepidation as she prepared to share with an audience for the first time her lived experience of mental ill-health that temporarily rocked her personal and professional identity. Her disclosure hit home for me, as I reflected on my own professional leap of incorporating my personal identity story off the back of my experience at the same conference exactly one year prior (you can read about my journey here). As a woman whose work life involved looking out for others, Karen attributed her moving through this challenging period to knowing that she could reach out to people who had her back, both at home and work. Karen hoped her disclosure would start a ripple effect that would create a larger conversation responsible for generating greater social impact. “We have to stop talking about mental health as them. It’s not about being courageous. It’s about being open, honest and vulnerable”. Karen’s experience consolidated her work identity and purpose at a personal level and in sharing her story, she offered a reminder that the mental health of the people in our workplaces and communities is a shared social responsibility we all carry.

“We have to stop talking about mental health as them. It’s not about being courageous. It’s about being open, honest and vulnerable”.

Craig Hudson, Managing Director of Xero New Zealand sharing his personal and professional journey that has contributed to Xero's impact.

This message spoke directly to Craig Hudson, Managing Director of Xero New Zealand who shared his goal to bring the “humans first” value of Xero’s culture to life every day. He shared, “I implicitly care about my people. Being really human and telling my personal story about mental health empowers our team to realise it’s ok to not be ok”. Craig’s personal identity informs his passionate advocacy for mentally fit workplaces. At an organisational level, Xero’s commitment to impact shapes his leadership identity.

In March of this year, as Xero was approaching the height of their annual selling season, Christchurch was rocked by a horrific massacre. As a leader, Craig had a decision to make, and he responded confidently through his own values, aligned with Xero’s commitment to purpose first. “We pulled all advertising off social media platforms. We pulled all of our sales teams out of the field. We brought them in-house to find out one, first and foremost, that they were ok. The sales team then connected in with the accountants in their associated businesses to see if they were ok.”

In prioritising the human value, Craig shared honestly, “I’m still feeling the so called pain of that business decision today from a revenue perspective, but it was fundamentally the right thing to do”. In response to trending cynicism as to whether companies should incorporate purpose in their bottom line metrics, Craig confidently stated “Business success will be a by-product of everyday excellence”.

“I implicitly care about my people. Being really human and telling my personal story about mental health empowers our team to realise it’s ok to not be ok”.

His words couldn’t be more timely. The 150 attendees who contributed to the conversation on organisational purpose at this year’s Thriving Workplace event join 181 of the world’s most influential CEOs who just the week before had signed the new Business Roundtable Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, committing to lead their companies through purpose for the benefit of all stakeholders. Our world is in need of significant social and environmental attention, and the specific skill, strengths and values that make our individual and collective identities can serve to create significant impact.

To join the conversation and uncover how your organisation can make their mark in the world, learn more about our IMPACT framework here, or reach out today for an obligation-free conversation.

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Jenna O'Connell

Jenna is a teacher and careers counsellor, with a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Drama & Performance), Bachelor of Education (K-12), and Graduate Certificate in Education Studies (Careers & Transitions).

Jenna is in her element when she is helping people and organisations discover their unique magic, and working with them in sharing this magic with the world to drive positive change. Her background sees an amalgam of over 15 years across corporate and education sectors, with extensive experience in curriculum development, coaching, facilitation, and mentorship.

Jenna contributes to various local youth projects and initiatives. Throughout 2017-2018, she mentored local youth in their project, Cards For Change, who went on to win a $2000 Pitch Project grant. She also volunteers for The Luminosity Youth Summit, is the Youth Ambassador Program Coordinator for Dyslexia Mid North Coast, and a proud ambassador for and presenter at #LitFest2444.

Mariane Power

Mariane is a Clinical Psychology Registrar and holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of Newcastle, a Graduate Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy and a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Performance. Mariane’s big audacious goal is to see all unnecessary emotional pain and suffering eliminated within her lifetime, and she is obsessed with all things related to human potential. Mariane has over 15 years experience in consulting, facilitation and corporate training for personal and strategic growth. Her work as a Leadership Consultant in the corporate world further fuels her understanding of the necessary skills for the 21st Century workplace, and she has a particular interest in supporting our next generation to thrive.  Mariane is proud to have extended her personal purpose to support a number of not-for-profit and for-purpose initiatives including The Luminosity Summit and Project Gen Z, and she currently extends her expertise in positive youth development as an Impact Leader on the Board for Ambisie.


If you or anyone you know requires specific mental health support, please contact your local GP or registered mental health provider for advice and assistance.

The following services also provide resources and support:

  • Mental Health Access Line 1800 011 511 
  • Beyondblue 
  • LifeLine 11 13 14 
  • Headspace 
  • Reach Out

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